A Wake up Call for Somalis in America - by Jamal Abdulahi
By Jamal Abdulahi,
Somalis in America are engrossed in the politics of Somalia particularly the Mogadishu gathering even though there is an election with serous potential consequences rapidly approaching in America. The presidential campaign is solidifying with challenger Mitt Romney naming his running mate and both major political parties planning to conclude their respective conventions by the first week of September. Once conventions adjourn, it is sprint to election-day of November 6, 2012. Campaigns go into mode of rally-to-rally. Therefore, time is of the essence to get engaged and become familiar with issues and candidates for offices of all levels.
In the following paragraphs, I will highlight number of important policy differences between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney to serve as a guide for Somalis considering who to support in the November 6th election. I will highlight key party plot form differences between Republicans and the Democrats to help guide which candidate to support down the ballot on state and local races. Finally, I will discuss the voter identification amendment on Minnesota’s ballot, home to the largest Somali Community in America.
Back in 2008-then-candidate Obama dazzled America with message of change and hope. America was mesmerized by an energetic, African-American candidate with right pedigree. I was on the ground in the Iowa caucuses admittedly working for different candidate. I attended number of candidate Obama events. Beyond and above the rhetoric of change and hope, candidate Obama took number of specific policy positions both foreign and domestic. Obama’s foreign policy positions particularly wars that begun after September 11 were largely similar to that of George W Bush but their domestic policies were very different.
Nuance differences existed in Iraq as the war turned into debacle. Obama opposed the reasons for going into war with Iraq and characterized the execution of the war as “dump”.
Another difference was how to execute the war with Al-Qaida. Bush’s approach was the typical neo-conservative of deploying the entire might of the United States armed forces while candidate Obama believed a surgical war by first politically isolating the group and then applying intelligent techniques including partnership with other nations and smart weapons. Obama professed “America is not at war with Islam” in a speech at Cairo University. The speech and the conversation that followed had at least played a part the declined of recruits and financial support for Al-Qaida. Obama can rightfully claim success against Al-Qaida by eliminating almost all the group’s top tier leadership including Osama Bin Laden.
Obama’s foreign policy was largely similar to that of his predecessor with the exception of tactical differences. There are no indications Romney will be any different if he prevails on November 6th of this year.
One difference to expect between Obama and Romney presidency is change of rhetoric in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Romney seems to want to adopt more hawkish persona favorable to Israel. Romney already angered the Palestinians with his culture comments during a trip to Israel.
Obama and Romney drastically differ in their approach to solve domestic issues including how to grow the economy, address the federal deficit and reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The differences are historic and biblical in proportion. Each is enshrined in their respective political party plot form.
Obama believes a philosophy of government raising additional revenue to maintain entitlement programs. Romney, on other hand, believes an approach of finding private market solutions to the projected short fall funding facing the programs. These are traditional positions align with each party plot form.
Romney’s choice for vice president, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, speaks volume how he plans to address entitlement programs. Paul Ryan is the current chair of budget committee in congress. He published a budget plan in March 2012. Ryan’s budget cuts $5.3 trillion almost all of it from Medicare and Medicaid over ten years. The effect of this would be more poor people without healthcare and senior citizens paying more for their care. Representative Ryan’s budget plan passed the house on party line vote but languished in the senate because Obama promised to veto it.
The plot forms of the two parties also differ on how to grow the economy. One is rooted Keynesian economics while the other advocates ultra orthodox free market economics.
Obama’s party plot form is rooted in economic philosophy of government compensating lack of growth in the private sector with spending increase on common tenants such as roads, education and defense. The basic premise is that since two-third of economic activities in America are generated by consumers, the government must increase spending to keep unemployment low and create demand for goods and services produced by the private sector. The government will be able to payback any money it borrowed to create demand once the economy starts to grow again because more people will be employed and pay taxes. This concept is known as Keynesian economics. It is championed by legion of democrats including President Obama.
Romney’s party plot form, on the other hand, advocates free market economics. This plot form is rooted in the belief that government is an impediment to individual economic initiates and it is private markets that should be solely responsible for all economic activities with the exception of national defense. “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” declared Ronald Regan. The basic idea is the only role for government in the market place is to reduce taxes for the wealthy segment of the population. The wealthy segment of the population will create more businesses and hire more people thus unemployment will remain low. This economic philosophy is known as trickledown economics. Romney, a son of wealthy governor and wealthy himself proudly embraces this concept with the selection of another wealthy congressman as vice president.
While these are ideas being debated in the national election, there are local battles being waged in various states through congressional district races and ballot amendments. In Minnesota, for example, voters will be asked to approve constitutional amendment to require a state issue idea when casting a ballot. The language of the amendment reads “shall the Minnesota constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide identification to eligible voters effective July 1, 2013.” The options are ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. The proposed amendment will amend Article VII, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution. The language of this amendment appears benign and harmless but the ramifications are significant on certain demographics.
Currently in Minnesota voters can register and cast a vote on the same day by having someone vouch that person lives in the address. Presenting a utility bill to an election judge is another way to proof residency. This approach led to one of the highest voter turn-out in the nation with almost zero voter fraud.
This change will affect primarily three demographics of the state’s population. All three demographics are in the bottom fifth of the economic ladder.
One demographic is immigrant communities who frequently change residency. Immigrant communities such as the Somali generally live densely populated urban areas. Large extended families often live in the same unit with only one lease holder in the unit. Requiring the address on the photo identification match residency will discourage new Americans to exercise one of the most potent powers in American, the ability to cast a ballot for a candidate of their choosing.
Students will be impacted negatively as well. Students will be divided into groups if the amendment is approved by voters as polls project. Student identification card from the Minnesota State Colleges and University (MNSCU) and University of Minnesota systems will be acceptable but student identification card issued by private colleges will not be acceptable. This will disfranchise large number of voters.
Senior citizens are another group who will be negatively impacted by the voter identification amendment. Senior citizens live on fixed income and can’t afford to update identification cards when they move. This is critical for senior citizens in rural Minnesota. Some senior citizens live half day drive to the nearest service center.
Proponents of the amendment claim it is needed to prevent fraud. But historically voter impediment laws such as this one lead to lower voter turn-out. Efforts to reduced voter turn-out are known as voter suppression in the American political lexicon. The following are some examples albeit not exhaustive list:
· Impediments to Voter Registration
· Voter Identification Laws
· Purging Voter Rolls
· Jim Crow Laws
· Disinformation About Voting Procedures
· Partisan Election Administration
· Inequality in election Day Resources
Some of the tools in the list above are not new but recently intensified in the last ten years. There have been more than 1,000 voter suppression bills introduced in 46 states mostly in the south.
Furthermore, citizens are not asking for these of laws. These laws are championed by interest groups. Among these interest groups is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has sponsored similar controversial bills in other states. ALEC supported Oklahoma’s amendment to outlaw Sharia. State Senator Dave Thompson, a Republican from Minneapolis suburb wanted to introduce identical amendment in Minnesota before he was persuaded to withdraw because it could impact other amendments on the ballot for 2012. Senator Thompson made no secret of his admiration for ALEC and his plans for retry if re-elected.
It is understandable to feel despair and think there is nothing a Somali could do about these types of laws despite the obvious direct negative impact to our community. It is also temping to find false comfort that we’re all going to back to Somalia when things settle down.
The reality is that we can do something about these types of laws. We can definitely vote ‘No’ on the voter identification amendment. We can have our friends and family to do the same. We can also give financial support however small to citizen groups that oppose this amendment. No amount is too small. A $5 contribution helps to reach ten citizens who could vote ‘No’ and help defeat this amendment.
Another reality is most of us will continue to live in America as conditions in Somalia remain inhospitable. There have been flickers of hope in places like Mogadishu but Somalia’s civil war is far from over. Some readers might feel an urge to respond for not discussing the relative stability in the North and the North East. That’s not the intent of this piece. There are entire pages dedicated to that discussion. The only reason I brought it up is to draw attention from the boondoggle in Mogadishu to an election that we could make real difference. So get engaged because November 6th is approaching rapidly.